Christian Wilkins is at complete ease with a quarterback or a football in his hands, but with a 1-year-old toddler?
Not so much.
“I have never seen him that nervous,” Clemson teammate Sean Pollard said. “He was sweating bullets.”
The massive defensive tackle, just six weeks removed from a national championship, also was trying to maintain his composure, as the young boy cradled in his cavernous arms Thursday afternoon was just hours removed from having his lower right leg amputated at the Shriners Hospital for Children-Greenville.
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Hudson Belviso, who turned 1 on Feb. 9, was diagnosed in the womb with fibular hemimelia, a birth defect which in his case included the absence of a fibula bone in his right leg as well as an associated foot deformity.
The surgery, performed by Dr. David Westberry of the Shriners Hospital, will allow Hudson soon to be fitted with a state-of-the-art prosthetic, which will loom large as the Spartanburg toddler continues to barrel full-steam ahead toward walking age.
Wilkins and Pollard were joined by four teammates – Chad Smith, Austin Spence, Isaac Moorhouse and Paul Funderburk – at the hospital, providing support for young Hudson and his extended family, all of whom were sporting Clemson-orange “Huddie Strong” T-shirts made especially for the occasion.
Thursday’s visit, which included interactions with several other patients, resulted from his mother, Kaci, reaching out to Jessie Carroll, who’s a player relations specialist for the Clemson football team. Kaci emailed Carroll with photos of Hudson in his Clemson attire and a description of what lie ahead for her son.
Kaci drew an immediate response, as did Jessie.
“The key was I attached a picture of Hudson in my email to the players,” Carroll said. “He is the cutest little boy you’ve ever seen. The players were ready to hit the road that day.”
Pollard, a 6-foot-5, 295-pound freshman offensive tackle from North Carolina, was the key figure in getting the trip organized. He and his teammates signed several items for Hudson, including a pair of size 17 cleats that Pollard wore in the national championship game.
“It’s just an honor to be here – a blessing,” Pollard said. “We have big hearts for little kids, and we love putting a smile on their faces. These kids are going through things we’ve never experienced at such a young age.
“What Hudson had today was a life-changing event, but he’s going to be better off for it.”
Late Thursday afternoon, Hudson Belviso wasn’t fully aware that six Clemson football players filled his hospital room on this fateful day, but rest assured that someday he most certainly will know.
“I want this to be a big part of his story,” Kaci said. “He may never be able to play football like these guys, but we want him to know that they were here for him today.
“It really means a lot to us that they took time out of their day to come and make this miracle happen. We’ll never forget it.”